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15 October 2014
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Through My Eyes: An Unhappy Time in Eastbourne

by Del Weeks

Contributed by 
Del Weeks
People in story: 
Derek Weeks
Location of story: 
London, Home Counties and Wales
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 November 2003

I was eight years old at the outbreak of WW2. My father worked as a driver for a laundry in Merton and was in the Auxiliary Fire Service part time. Mum started some homework from P.B Cow of Mitcham, cutting out rubber grommets which I used to help in the evenings. It wasn’t long before I was evacuated to Eastbourne with my mother and my one year old sister. I cannot remember too much about that event apart from us all living in one room and my father visiting us occasionally from our flat in Streatham, London. Dad turned up on one visit with a huge cod over his shoulder to help out with the rations.

It wasn’t a very happy time in Eastbourne though. I can remember my mother often being in tears at the conditions we were living in, the three of us huddled together in that one tiny room near the sea. This, together with the shortage of food and mum missing dad coming home in the evenings soon made us return to London.

I stayed with my family in London during what is now known as the Battle of Britain, and watched the daily contrails of the dogfights over Croydon. Days then seemed to be always clear, with warm sunshine and blue skies and with the sound of the planes and gunfire overhead and in the far distance. All very exciting to a lad of ten and his gang members.
I remember helping dad to build the Anderson bomb shelter in the garden. A corrugated iron shelter, half buried in the ground and covered with earth. Dad seeded ours with grass and grew flowers on it and fitted a strong wooden door. It had a concrete floor with a hole in one corner so that the condensation could run away. Also an electric light on a long lead was run from the house to the shelter. I nearly electrocuted myself playing with the lamp on one occasion, it was only my mum's quick reaction that saved me. Mattresses and blankets served as our beds over wooden slats. Later on we had an indoor ‘table’ shelter with wire grills around the sides called the Morrison shelter. Our beds were permanently made up and we slept under this shelter during the blitz.

I was evacuated again to a small picturesque village called Bishops Hull in Somerset just outside of Taunton. All the new evacuee arrivals were ushered into the local village hall to be fostered to local families. I was exceedingly lucky to be fostered together with Charlie G from Tooting in London, a friend I had made on the journey from Paddington. We were billeted with the local builder Mr A and his wife who had a wonderful covered side entrance full of ladders and all sorts of interesting things to explore for kids of our age. I will always remember the hand grenade that was used to keep the back door open and the war games we used to play with it - it was not live of course. We had the occasional rumble of German aircraft at night and once found a live incendiary bomb on the front doorstep which soon had the local Wardens arriving to cover it with sandbags. I believe some planes just dropped their bombs anywhere.

Our days in the village with its cobbled pavements and the smell of fresh bread from the local bakery were always new and exciting. There was so much to do, it was all so new to us as we had never been in the countryside before. Climbing the huge oak tree in the field next to the bakery (it’s still there), go fishing down at the river where there always seemed to be a whirlpool that we were so frightened to go near. Running away from the cows in the field and the local farmer giving us rides on old snowball - a huge, to us, white cow. We once sampled a jug of cider that we found buried in a haystack. Although we searched, we never found it again! Many a time Charlie and I were in trouble at night. We shared a bed and were always laughing and making a noise until we were scolded and told to sleep.
The letter writing was somewhat of a chore in those days as we were always told to write home at least one evening a week.
Our school was just around the corner by an alleyway at the rear of the house. An old fashioned hand pump was in the alleyway. A small school hall that, in retrospect, was possibly a disused chapel. I can’t remember much about the schooling, but I can remember helping to whitewash the walls inside. I am sure I never learned too much there. I was also friends with Jack and Jill, brother and sister who lived next door at the local butchers. The butchers shop is also still there.
Those happy days came to an end when Mrs A, our fostermother, broke her ankle while playing football with us in the street. I was then fostered with somebody new and very soon asked to return home as I was sharing a bedroom with one of the elder sons who I didn’t like.

I came home in time for the blitz on London that was pretty frightening, although really exciting to us youngsters who didn’t realise the dangers. My father was now permanently in the London Fire Brigade or maybe it was the National Fire Service, and I seem to remember he was on duty most nights. He told me of walls collapsing around him in the docklands and of going round with an enamel bucket picking up body parts.
My uncle lived in the flat above us and worked on the railway as a shunter at Clapham Junction. He kept his bike in the front garden. I was in the Life Boys (a junior sea cadets) at that time and wore the hat with a saucepan lid underneath as protection! One night we were both at the front door seeing all that was going on, he in his tin helmet and me with my saucepan lid. Suddenly among all the noise, there was a loud clang as a big piece of shrapnel went straight through the spokes of his bike. He had to catch a bus to work the next few days until his bike was repaired.
I will always remember that I was up the top of my road in a friends house during one of the daylight raids. It appeared pretty quiet so I decided to go the several hundred yards to my house. I was halfway there when aircraft were heard, so I started running as bombs were whistling down. I managed to get the key, that was hanging from inside of the letterbox on a piece of string, and opened the door, threw myself on the floor of the passageway as I had been told to do in such circumstances, and the front door fell on top of me with the blast. I was unhurt, but the bombs destroyed several houses in the next street.
After the ‘all clears’ had sounded during the daytimes, we used to go out on our scooters shrapnel hunting. You got to be leader of the gang if you found a shell cap, but that was a rarity. The scooters and barrows we made ourselves out of wood collected from bombed sites. The wheels of the scooters were large ball races with a lump of wood hammered through the centre for an axle. The noise they made going along the road and pavements wouldn’t be allowed today. The pram wheels of the barrow or trolleys were also collected from the bombed sites - a great source for what is nowadays called do-it-yourself. There were often big fights over the collected spoils. The barrows had four wheels, a box to sit in, and were steered with a bit of string tied to the front wheels that were on a swivel.

I was then again evacuated. To South Wales this time. A mining village called Pentrebach near Merthyr. It seemed as if the war was far away and over. Us kids had great fun sliding down the slag-heaps on trays and getting covered in coal dust. I used to help the local milkman -Jones the milk of course - on the weekends putting the cardboard caps on the bottles of milk in the dairy. I think I was given tuppence for doing this. I confess here, that I stole rolls of these caps to share with my friends for a game at school where we flicked them up to a wall. The nearest to the wall kept all the other caps. Needless to say I always had plenty of stock!
On Sundays it was a local ‘hobby’ of the men of the village to go ratting. Either down the disused coalmine or the river. The rats were either shot or put in a ‘tram’ (a small wagon for carrying coal from the mine) and dogs were introduced for, what was called sport in those days. If it wasn’t ratting, then it was going up in the hills with friends to pick blueberries for a pie.
Schooling is not a thing I remember while in Wales, I was having too much fun. I do remember coming home from school and sitting down to a plateful of runner beans for dinner several times a week. Probably the reason that I don’t like them now.

As the blitz appeared to be over, I once more returned home to Streatham. The doodlebug raids started soon after. We watched them from the back garden flying past toward the centre of London. On occasion the engine would stop early and it would dive down and black smoke would appear a mile or so away. We were always ready to make a rush for the shelter when they appeared, sometimes with a spitfire chasing it.
I was sitting on the front wall at a friends house a few streets away one late afternoon when there was an almighty bang followed by a rushing roaring sound, and we all looked at each other wondering what it was. We were all used to the bangs during a raid, but there was no raid on at that time. The warnings were getting fewer. It turned out that it was the V2 rocket for which no warning could be given. It was much more powerful than the V1 doodlebug (or flying bomb). The V2 came from the stratosphere and travelled faster than sound. The roaring noise after the explosion was the sound it made coming through the air, a frightening noise. Although many V1s and V2s fell on London and caused a great deal of death and damage, I feel that I was fortunate to live on the outskirts of the City and in the suburbs.

The war in Europe came to an end soon afterwards with much celebration and street parties. Lots of food was found for these in spite of the rationing that went on for several years afterwards. Flags and bunting was brought out, even pianos were on the streets with lots of music and dancing. Soon afterwards, small prefabricated houses began to appear on what we called the bomb-dumps. We used to listen to the interesting stories the nightwatchman could tell of his war, while we were sitting around the fire that he lit in the ‘prefabs’.

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